The underestimated value of professional women over 50

When we’re in our twenties and thirties, the desire to move up the corporate ladder is, more often than not, encouraged—if not expected—by our peers and managers.

But, as we start to get a little older it seems that we start to become overshadowed by our younger counterparts, even when we have just as much drive (and more experience) than when we were younger.

It’s safe to say that women over 50, in particular, are unfairly underestimated in the professional setting. But why is that? And what can we do about it?

Below, we spoke to Bonnie Marcus, award-winning entrepreneur, author, and executive coach, about her latest book Not Done Yet! How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power, to get her insights on exactly what women approaching 50 should be doing to ensure they’re not only valued in the workplace but seen as the asset they are.

Whether you’re feeling underappreciated by your employer, you’re hoping to make a career change but worried about shaking things up later in your professional life, or you’re an employer looking to ensure you’re properly fostering a workplace that supports the growth of your more senior-level employees, here’s exactly what Marcus wants working professionals to know about the value of professional women over 50.

Ladders: What is the most common misconception about women over 50 in the workplace?

Bonnie Marcus: The most common misconception about women over 50, is that when they begin to show visible signs of aging, they’re no longer valuable contributors, they’re perceived to be irrelevant and therefore, sidelined, their workload re-distributed and their opinions no longer solicited. This happens to women earlier than their male counterparts because of our society’s emphasis on both youth and appearance.

Ladders: How can employers ensure they’re fostering a workplace that supports growth and professional development for more senior employees?

Marcus: Employers need to examine their workplace policies and practices for evidence of ageism. Ageism falls under the radar compared to all the other ‘isms’ and therefore, must be included in unconscious bias training. Employers should provide a safe environment for seniors to discuss the discrimination they face, and create a no-judgement process to handle ageist complaints.

It would be extremely valuable for companies to survey all employees to uncover the type of bias they face in the workplace as well as determine what training and skills can be provided to make sure that they have the opportunity to grow professionally and stay at the top of their game.

Ladders: What would you say to women in their fifties who are looking to change careers?

Marcus: I would say, go for it! Reinvention can happen at any age. Don’t let your own ageist assumptions hold you back from owning the power of your experience and wisdom. Own your talent. Own your ambition.

When interviewing women for my book, I noticed a startling difference that mindset can have when changing careers at this age, or at any age for that matter. The women who believed in themselves and felt positive about the experience, who welcomed the new opportunity, were more successful making transitions than those who believed they were too old to start over.

Ladders: What do you hope to accomplish with your latest book in terms of professional women and career development?

Marcus: I want to accomplish a couple of things. First of all, I want to build awareness that gendered ageism is a real issue for women as they age in the workplace, especially as they show visible signs of aging. It’s insidious and unfair and needs to be addressed by employers.

Women also need to understand this so as not to be blindsided by thinking their track record of performance will shield them for being pushed out the door prematurely. They need to be proactive about doing what it takes to remain a valuable contributor. They also need to understand their rights and learn to stand up for themselves to avoid being steamrolled.

I also want women 50+ to realize that their own assumptions, fears, and beliefs about aging may be holding them back. If they believe that they’re too old to contribute value, too old to be promoted, they won’t do what’s necessary to remain relevant.

Their negative outlook has the potential to sabotage their careers because it may lead to them not doing what’s necessary to be visible and credible. They won’t offer their ideas and opinions. They won’t raise their hands and speak up in meetings. They won’t volunteer for special projects, and may, in fact, refrain from building the relationships they need to maintain their influence.

They may end up being invisible and irrelevant by virtue of their own withdrawal. This behavior makes them vulnerable to being sidelined and pushed out.

Ladders: Is there anything else you want professional women over 50 to know about facing the challenges that may come with being an “older woman” in the workplace?

Marcus: Women approaching 50 and beyond need to take responsibility and control of their careers and be proactive in the face of ageism. Don’t wait until you’ve lost your job to do what it takes to stop playing small and keep your job. I offer 17 specific tips and strategies in my book to help women position themselves for success regardless of age.